Decisions made by men more than a century and a half ago led to me facing an unpleasant ethical dilemma a few days ago.
In my search for an image for the previous post, I stumbled across this photographic treasure from 1957: a possum in the care of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Knowing what we know today about the destructive impact of these furry marsupials, it is easy to dismiss this image as a quaint artefact of a misguided era.
But perhaps this caring woman knows better.
A possum is an animal worthy of the same humane treatment that any household pet deserves – it is only by virtue of being in the wrong place (through our actions) that it has become a ‘pest’ of such magnitude.
In a similar vein to my previous post about the little German owl, I found another insightful gem about possums, from the official report of the 15th national conference of acclimatisation societies in 1926:
“The Government had appointed Professor Kirk to inquire into opossums and the Forestry Department had also appointed an independent man. Both had come to the conclusion, namely, that opossums did no damage to Native trees. [The President] knew himself that the boards looking after certain scenic reserves had been able to obtain quite a large revenue from the opossums,* and had been thus able to fence the reserves, so that in that way the opossums were doing good in the bush.” Continue reading
Those of us who get annoyed by white butterfly caterpillars on our cabbages or broccoli may want to spare a thought for pastoral or crop farmers of the late 19th and early 20th century in New Zealand. Some caterpillars were of such plague proportions that on occasion, trains were brought to a screaming (or perhaps more squishy) halt by armies of caterpillars with their sights on a particularly tasty-looking field of wheat or oats. Continue reading
Even this little fellow, still not fully grown, would wreak havoc on vegetables and fruit trees, and in an indigenous forest environment, shrubs, trees, bird young and eggs.
Possums are now estimated to number 70 million in New Zealand, and are acknowledged as a pest that inflicts colossal damage on New Zealand’s indigenous flora and fauna. However, only 100 years ago, they were highly valued and strictly protected.
Possums were introduced to New Zealand with the intention of establishing a fur trade. They were first released in the 1830s, but initially failed to become established. Imports began to taper off after 1900, and until the late 1930s, they were periodically protected as imported game – it was illegal to trap or kill them. As David Young notes, they were regarded by the government as “furry money-spinners” well into the third decade of the 20th century. Continue reading